This is part of a new initiative featuring the women of Tempo, where we tell their stories and learn more about the paths that have led them to where they are now, and to see what they think about the future of tech — and for women in tech, generally.
Success in tech entails leading and not following and thinking outside of the box. Solving problems and helping people are the things that motivate me most, and I get to do both in my position; I see challenges as opportunities for creative problem solving. We have a lot of opportunity to define the kind of company and culture we’d like to be, our values, and how we’d like to evolve, which is exciting.
Next on our list of our Women of Tempo is our VP of Marketing & Communications, Jessica VanderVeen. Born and bred in the U.S., she's been living in Iceland for nearly five years now with her husband and two children.
Jessie, as she is called here around the office, leads the marketing team and is in charge of marketing and communication efforts here at Tempo. We were interested in learning more about what she had to say about working in tech and at Tempo so we asked her a few questions. Here's what she had to say:
Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Jessica and I am Tempo's VP of Marketing & Communications. I’m originally from the U.S. I grew up near Philadelphia and in upstate New York, near the Adirondacks. I lived in New York City for around 11 years before moving to Iceland. I have two small girls, Rúbý Alma and Ellý Rós, ages 4 and 1. They are half-Icelandic and half-American.
Previous experience (study and career path) and how you ended up at Tempo?
I started my career in 1998 as a project manager and engineer working in R&D. I managed U.S. regulatory compliance initiatives, and worked on new product development, including design, testing, and competitive analysis.
I went to graduate school at night and earned my master's degree in leadership and policy studies from Temple University in Philadelphia. I then earned a doctor of law from New York University, and worked in corporate & financial services at a large New York firm, where I focused on securities, M&A, antitrust, contracts and licensing, and employment.
I then worked as a legal and communications consultant for four years in both New York and in Iceland before joining the Tempo team in 2012, where I started when the team was still in its infancy and have helped to build our product marketing and communications team, and now serve on the management team.
When I moved to Iceland, I wanted to shift gears and work in more of an informal team environment, applying my skill set to a different setting. In my role at Tempo, I have been fortunate to work in a number of capacities, wearing many hats.
What are your interests and what do you do for fun?
I try to give back in my free time as much as I can, whether through volunteering or mentorship, though with two small children, my primary focus is on them. I recently completed a two-year term as a representative on the Multicultural Council of Reykjavik (Fjölmenningaráð Reykjavíkur), an elected seven-member committee that serves in an advisory capacity to the City of Reykjavik, to Iceland’s parliament, and to the Ministry of the Interior, on immigration matters. It was a new role, so we were able to define our vision, mission, and objectives and accomplish a lot over the course of our term. Before that, I worked pro bono with artists and small business owners helping them set up their businesses and navigate complex tax laws, worked with domestic violence victims in their divorce and custody proceedings, and represented Tibetan Buddhist monks in their asylum proceedings before the federal immigration court in New York.
I like reading on all kinds of subjects and learning new things; I try to learn something new each day. Lately, I've been listening to podcasts, since I can multitask with them. I'm a big music fan, and have played violin for around 30 years. I’m slightly obsessed with learning how to surf. Kind of difficult to do that here in Iceland.
What did you want to be when you were younger?
What was your first job?
Why did you want to work in tech? Was there a particular event or a moment when you decided to pursue a career in the tech industry? Any influencers?
It seemed like a natural progression for me. I love technology. I love learning and new challenges. Tech provides the opportunity to evolve a lot within a short period of time while solving problems and working in a collaborative team environment. It's constantly changing, which means there's a need to continually adapt, which I like.
There are so many influential women leaders that I look up to, but a few that have been forefront in my mind lately include: Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook), Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson (co-founders of Gilt Groupe), Shaherose Charania (CEO of Women 2.0), and Elizabeth Holmes (CEO of Theranos). In their own unique way, each of these women thinks big, acts with integrity, holds themselves and others accountable, and simply gets things done.
What were your earliest interactions (memories) with technology?
Growing up, my dad, an engineer, was really interested in computers. When I was 8, we created a chess game together on our Commodore 64 (that's how old I am). I used to play a lemonade stand game that taught kids about supply-side economics; you'd have to plan and strategize your weekly lemonade stand tactics based on weather forecasts and the cost of supplies! Both of my brothers were really interested in learning about hardware and software growing up. They used to dismantle and assemble computers with our dad to figure out how they worked, and had a web design business when they were teenagers. I am married to a designer and developer who continually challenges my ideas, so I think it has all influenced me in some way.
What is an average work day like for you?
I don't really have a typical day, though there are certain consistencies: product and marketing meetings, management meetings, planning and managing our team efforts, delving into the details as well. We have a talented, lean marketing team that wears a lot of hats. Most of what I do can be broken down as understanding current and future problems, and trying to find realistic and efficient ways to fix or them—both for our customers and our team.
What is your favorite part about working in tech?
I like the creativity and innovative aspects. Success in tech entails leading and not following and thinking outside of the box. Solving problems and helping people are the things that motivate me most, and I get to do both in my position; I see challenges as opportunities for creative problem solving. We have a lot of opportunity to define the kind of company and culture we’d like to be, our values, and how we’d like to evolve, which is exciting.
Overall, how do you think things are for women working in tech right now?
I think there are a lot of opportunities right now for women in tech. I think there are still some ingrained assumptions about women's capabilities and professional interests that continually need to be challenged — both by men and women — but I think that there’s an awareness there and that is a good thing.
What is your favorite thing about your career?
I get to contribute to developing a vision and then turning that vision into a reality. I really enjoy the creative aspect of what I do, of the story-telling aspect to marketing, and connecting with customers.
I try to encourage my team to think critically about their work, to challenge the status quo, and even to challenge the end goal I have asked them to accomplish. I get to work with independent, passionate, creative people and analytical thinkers, which has been extremely rewarding.
What has been your biggest challenge as a woman in tech?
In my experience, women tend to underestimate their own skills and sometimes fail to have confidence in their professional abilities — myself included.
In her book (Lean In), Sheryl Sandberg cites research that shows that women are more likely to apply for a position only if they feel that they meet 100% of the job’s qualifications, while men are likely to apply if they only meet 60% of its qualifications. That statistic resonated with me when I read it based on my own experience. I once told a male colleague I would never get a job I'd applied for because I only had 50% of the skills in the job description. He said, "Jess, no man would ever think that way. A man would say, 'I've got at least 50% of the things they want nailed, they've got to hire me.'" Despite being a bit stereotypical, the research Sandberg cites supports his comment.
Conversely, Sandberg cites research that shows that men are more likely than women to be hired and promoted based on perceived potential, whereas women are often hired and promoted based on demonstrable accomplishment, so maintaining the confidence to just go for it is one factor of the equation.
What is your biggest success up until now, career-wise?
Taking risks at the right time.
Aside from technical skills, what other skills do you feel are important to have if a woman is interested in working in technology?
I think that empathy and humility are important no matter who you are. In my experience, the smartest, most creative, and wittiest people are often quiet observers. I think it’s important for women — or anyone — to speak up and not feel as though their opinion doesn't matter. It’s also important to listen and observe, too, in order to grow.
What advice would you give to others interested in pursuing a career in tech?
Conventional career advice for women often comes down to personal enhancements and doesn't focus on acumen. It usually emphasizes personal actions that we need to take, like becoming more confident and assertive, developing our personal brand, and advice about working with other people, like learning to self-promote, finding a mentor, and advancing our networks. This advice is necessary but it's not sufficient.
Women need to understand a business, where it's going, and what it takes to get there, and that's often missing in the advice that women are given. People who are able to scan the external environment, identify issues and opportunities, make strategic recommendations — people who can look at financials and the story of a business, have a vision, and take appropriate action. Informal mentoring and sponsorship is necessary for this, but this is what can hold us back if the ingrained assumption is that we're not interested. I've been fortunate to have had some incredible advisors and mentors in my career — but often, we need to proactively seek it out. As mentors, we should proactively seek out mentees.
Try not to let fear paralyze you; listen, but filter out the noise and focus on what's important. Identify what you do well and enjoy doing and leverage it. Devise goals and communicate them with your manager. Build relationships based on authenticity. Try not to lose sight of the bigger picture.
How do you see the future of women in tech?
I think more women will pursue careers in it. Diversity of perspectives increases collective intelligence by challenging our assumptions and ways of thinking, which fosters progress and innovation, and I think that's a very positive thing.
University or life experience, which do you feel best prepares you for life?
I think passion, creativity, and initiative are the most important characteristics that create value, and those qualities are not usually attained in a linear manner. Education and experience are part of the tool set.
Who is your hero?
My mom and my sister. They are both strong, extraordinary, and unique people. They have paved their own paths and pushed themselves through some very tough challenges. They (and my dad!) have taught me to believe in myself and just go for it. I hope to be a similar role model for my own daughters.
Waldo is everywhere.
The best part of waking up is?
Hitting the reset button.
Stay tuned for more from our amazing Tempo women!
p.s. Read more on our Women of Tempo series here.